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Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract Paperback – March 12, 1988

14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The national pastime's most eminent statistician and the author of the annual Bill James Baseball Abstract here brings his formidable background to a history of the game, a must for fans. He begins with a decade-by-decade survey from 1870 through 1979, emphasizing the ethos of the sport (for example, the rowdyism of the 1890s) in each period. There are also brief sidebars on oddities and happenings outside the mainstream, including several by James's wife, Susan McCarthy, on changes in uniforms. The second section focuses on the players, with ratings position by position and a list of the game's 100 greatest players, determined by their value at their peak and through their entire careers. Finally, there is an examination of major players, whom James assesses by dozens of criteria. Contributor Jim Carothers opines in a footnote that "if the last library in the world were on fire," The Baseball Encyclopedia would be the book to save. Not so. The one at hand is as informative, and a lot more fun to read. Photos. Preferred Choice Bookplan selection; BOMC alternate. January
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YAThose dealing with impassioned baseball fans need this book. It will send fanatics into frenzies with its com bination of statistics, sabermetrics (ad vanced baseball number-crunching) and James' lively colloquial analysis of the history of the game and its players. James is never shy about his opinions, and the book will be most appreciated by those who share his predilection for pronouncements. What more could a real fan ask for than a point-by-point argument on the 100 greatest players ever to grace the game?
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 723 pages
  • Publisher: Villard; Revised edition (March 12, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394758056
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394758053
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #749,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By dfhesq@aol.com on December 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
If I could keep only two books in my baseball library, Bill James' Historical Abstract would be one of them; the other would be among Total Baseball, Macmillan's Baseball Encyclopedia and STATS' All-Time Major League Handbook. While James has stated he will update this baseball classic (it is over a decade old now), this book has aged much more proudly than most old sports histories. James mixes in colorful anecdotes with crisp analysis and helpful statistical evaluations. The new edition, if it ever is published, will undoubtedly employ updated statistical tools to compare history's best players. In the meantime, grab this book if you can find a copy. I don't know of many owners willing to part with it -- even on loan!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Contrarian on June 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
There is a "New Historical Abstract" out. But this edition is MUCH better -- I explain why below.

This book is wonderful. I have enjoyed it for 20 years. Probably the best book Bill James ever wrote. It covers the history of baseball decade by decade and then rates players (with extensive discussion of his rationale). It uses statistics but is not overly dependent on them (as the New Bill James Historical Abstract is).

One of the things I like best is how he collects information on what people thought of players at the time and constrasts that to current opinion. He gives a number of telling examples of how memory and other factors distort opinion. This is fascinating as a reflection on history, not just baseball history.

Another great strength is that he brings up other people's opinions and explains why he differs. He also puts a lot of weight on external valuations (such as MVP voting).

As I noted, he does use the statistical methods he is justly famous for but he uses fairly simple ones. He also explains and justifies their use and notes their limitations.

One section I liked best is Bill's essay on the origins of platooning. It takes it back much further than is commonly realized and also puts it in the context of baseball history in general and explains why platooning began when it did and the reasons its popularity waxed and waned.

The New BJ Historical Baseball Abstract has the benefits of bringing it more up-to-date and adding a lot on the Negro leagues (which are real benefits). However, it has lost a lot of the humility that characterizes the original. It also does silly things like trying to meld together two very distinct measures of greatness (peak value and career value) by taking the geometric mean of the two.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 12, 1997
Format: Paperback
This hefty volume shines new light on baseball--and sports in general--against the backdrop of American history. Particularly illuminating are the player profiles (check out the pieces on Ty Cobb, Lefty Grove, Ernie Lombardi, Mike Schmidt and Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays) and the all-time players' rankings. You'll find yourself re-reading sections just for the sheer joy of immersing yourself in beautifully crafted, cliche-free prose. An essential library addition for anyone who loves the game of baseball.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By David Martinez on May 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
As a baseball author myself, I'm pretty picky when it comes to reading about the game. The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract is the best book in my baseball library, which now approaches 200+ titles. [Somebody] complained about James's opinions, but for me, that's why I read Bill James: for his opinions! James doesn't present opinion as fact; he presents opinion as opinion, fact as fact, and then tries to persuade you that he's right. His work has influenced a number of modern baseball writers, including Rob Neyer of ESPN..., as well as myself. I read James's yearly Abstracts in the 1980s, but it's this book that really got me interested in learning more about baseball.
Apparently, a new edition of the Historical Abstract is due for publication in summer 2001. Buy it!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By James Eddy on January 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
The Historical Baseball Abstract is perhaps the most read book in my baseball library. It has something inside to satisfy every kind of baseball fan. James provides his trademark cogent statistical ysis on many of the subjects he has written about before. The historical information on former players is outstanding - any baseball fan looking to expand their knowledge of the game's history will devour this book. James chimes in informatively on some interesting player debates (Mantle vs Mays, Berra vs Dickey) and offers his insight on how the great players in history match up to each other. Some of the information is admittedly outdated, as the book was published in the mid-80s. However, that flaw will change upon the publishing of James' updated Abstract, due out within the next couple years.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
Among the best baseball books ever written. James is known for his statistical work, but he's also a terrific writer, always willing to venture down the back alleys of baseball history. The book has many great photos (check out the photo of Joe Martina, or Ty Cobb in his David Byrne-like big suit) and lot of odd tales about the lives of old-time players. I'm looking forward to its re-release.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
Bill James is the best at what he does because he makes the statistical side of the game interesting. He never forgets that the game is played by human beings with human strengths and weaknesses. His perspective on players' rankings and his ability to tell a good story are what keep me coming back for more. As for the comments of the reviewer who thinks Bill is obsessed with Joe Jackson: Get over it! Sounds like you're just a bit obsessed yourself. Why would you pick on this one thing and use it as the basis for a review of the entire book? For everyone else: Read anything Bill James writes about baseball.
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